Over the past year, as my interest in Children’s literature has been growing, I’ve been reading a lot of children’s books. Like a lot a lot. The more picture books I read, I start to notice the ones that catch my interest the most, and the ones I end up re-reading several times in a row, are the ones that feel the most poetic. By that I mean that even though the language may appear to be “simple” the language is actually rich in complex diction, syntax, and imagery–not to mention attention to rhythm, sounds, and pacing. Sound familiar? Like a poem maybe? Let’s take a look at my latest obsession: Once Upon an Alphabet, by Oliver Jeffers.
I just learned I’ve been spelling “catalog” wrong my entire life. At least, wrong as in I’m American and we’re in America and Americans apparently drop the -ue endings of random various words. Yes, that means I’ve been spelling “dialog” wrong, too. I mean, don’t tell me that doesn’t look weird. It should be “dialogue.” The word just doesn’t look finished without that -ue ending.
Alright, this might not be entirely related to poetry. I apologize. I had a mini-meltdown last night while copyediting CNF pieces for Gandy Dancer when, after consulting three different writing manuals, I realized I’ve *apparently* been spelling these words wrong since I was in elementary school. And that no one ever bothered to correct me.
…which made me wonder, have you guys ever found yourselves spelling “color,” “colour?” “Gray” as “grey?” Or–*gasp*, “center” as “centre” and “theater” as “theatre?” I tried to google some information on why there are differences in the accepted standard forms of American vs British English, but all I could really find was that there was never really a standard form to begin with–Americans just tend to favor (favour?) some spellings, while Brits favor another.
So, have any of you ever run across this problem in your poetry? Do you think some variant spellings automatically look/read “better” than others (re: am I just crazy?)? Should “catalogue” and “dialogue” really be “catalog” and “dialog”–or should I just up and move to the UK since I can’t stand the way the dropped -ue ending looks?
For another one of my classes, we were assigned chapters out of a book called Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, and it’s sparked a lot of horror and also a lot of topics I’m interested in exploring as poetry. For example, I was really interested in the term “resurrection man,” used to describe a man who unearthed bodies for illicit dissection; these men often happened to be African American men plundering black cemeteries, which complicates the history even more. Another snippet that got my attention was learning that the body of Addie Mae Collins, one of the girls who died in the Birmingham Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, was missing from her grave. Neither casket nor corpse was found in the grave when her sisters decided to move her to a better cemetery thirty years after her death; she had been buried in an all-black cemetery. The author writes that “many are convinced that her body joined the untold thousands of anonymous black cadavers on anatomists’ tables” (119). The double sucker punch of that: to be killed at thirteen because of the color of your skin and then to have your body stolen and used for studies in anatomy.
This is all to say: I’m interested in writing a series of poems based off this book and other records like it, but I’m also hesitant. It’s a sensitive topic and it’s racially charged. The last thing I want to do is appropriate the experiences of these people and turn them into spectacle or entertainment (further exploitation). It’s tricky ground for me–I want to tell their stories, but I’m unsure of the best way to go about doing so.
What do other people think? Ideas for treading this ground carefully? Hesitations?
While I was hanging out with my friends Saturday morning (read: 2:30 pm) one of them kept mentioning that she really wanted to eat eggs. This naturally reminded of my friend Robin’s poem “Egg.” Its one of his older poems, so I had to scroll a bunch to find it, and while quickly seeing all the poems he has shared with me, and few new ones, I decided to read a bunch later.
After I read “Daydream” (http://robinmendozadotcom.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/daydream/) I was so excited, because I finally had a good excuse to share Robin’s poetry on the blog. The poem takes place in a Lowe’s parking lot! I remember having a conversation with him before he wrote this poem about how strange parking lot lighting is, particularly the sunsets and twilights. If only I had done this the weekend before I could have asked Erika how she felt about Lowe’s. Her answer might have been similar to something Robin told me about how the facades of them look in front of the sun.
I began thinking about how Robin really introduced me to poetry, and how lucky I am to have a friend writing such cool stuff (and a little sad because he’s not writing much anymore). If I keep at this poetry thing like I plan to do, Robin could be the most influential person in my life behind my parents, so I was wondering if all of you have anyone like that in your lives? And if not, how did you come to poetry?
Erika’s exercise (the one where she had us construct a list, and then suggested writing poetry from it) inspired me. Sometimes it’s really hard for me to just sit down and write a poem. I think that this is because for some reason I am worried that it will be really bad, and don’t want to put in the effort to create something bad, or it will be borderline good and I won’t be able to decide if I like it, or maybe I am afraid of where the poem will take me. I honestly do not know, but I feel some sort of pressure sometimes. I decided that I would try and combat this pressure by doing a similar thing to Erika’s exercise(< this word will never look like it’s spelled correctly to me). My exercise is to come up with a short list of completely random things- something funny someone said, or something that is just floating in my mind so I want to write it down, something interesting from the day, a weird word– literally anything, and challenge myself to write a poem with these items/thoughts/etc. I decided that I would write these poems incredibly fast, I also decided that another thing that takes the pressure off is allowing these poems to be completely nonsensical. My list from the other day is as follows:
-baby chicks in blenders
-outer space- aliens being 5ft tall
-“the shitzus in Pittsburgh suck”‘
-heirloom tomatoes are the sexiest tomatoes
Big colossal hands cup my ankles like
I am at the edge of a cliff, belly banging against gravel
childsposing to my death. Do not release I repeat in robo-tongue
Don’t wish to live among the ones who exhale stardust–though
I will greet them eye-level.
The Shitzus in Pittsburgh
suck when I visit they stumble over themselves like my
mother after she has had
half a glass of wine (she’s a lightweight). Do not
release the golden egg you have kept
for science class: she has eyes and a nose and a mouth and
seems so personable but
everything looks the same in a blender.
The bar tab is higher than an old oak and
people are debating which tomato is the sexiest. Thumbing
through the pages of a cook book brings back memories
of thick pot roast stew: feelings of home and suede t-shirts.
Everything feels profound when there’s a lack of oxygen to the brain.
So this poem is weird as hell, and doesn’t really make sense. I tried to connect it all together by suggesting that maybe the narrator is hallucinating because he/she is about to die. Although this poem isn’t particularly good, it helped me come up with some ideas for a new poem like childposing to your death, robo-tongue, greeting aliens eye level since they are apparently 5 feet tall, and other ideas that surfaced. Hopefully if I do this enough I will come up with lots of new unique images and ideas to keep me inspired. I’m curious to see if other people feel pressured when they begin to write, and the things they do to combat this pressure, since pressure is pretty discouraging.
Here’s my interpretation of the question and answer session we had with Erika Meitner in class. I say interpretation, because my notes are definitely not exact, and I tried to capture the essence of what she said, instead of full quotes.
Q: How did Copia come to be a book?
A: Some of her poet friends had been working on project books focusing a particular subject, but her poems weren’t intended to fit together. In order to get a book together, she’d look at poems on the wall for connections, get friends to read and connect them, and look for particular obsessions to track what she’d put together. She ended up with a collection of poems about her Jewish Grandma, poems about Detroit, infertility, desire, documentary photos, etc, grouped in certain ways, but with common threads running through all.
When Erika Meitner visited our last class, we began with a small exercise: name the least poetic place you could think of. There were lots of bathrooms, gas/truck stations, bureaucratic places like the DMV and even a fridge. We all seemed to nod or laugh in agreement when we heard each person name their choice. My choice was the Valero gas station on Rt 63. It’s incredibly grimy and there the layout to pay inside is horrible (but paying 5 cents less for gas is an excellent perk). Nevertheless, why was this the first place I thought of? Why did others think of industrial or modern spaces? Continue reading “What Makes a Place Unpoetic?”
…but are interested in.” That was (basically) the prompt the awesome poet Erika Meitner gave to us in class today. I found that it was pretty easy for me to get to three, so I decided to keep going.
- How to hotwire a car
- How to win a bar fight
- The planets outside our galaxy
- Other “dimensions”
- Cars in general
- Prison Food
- Ben Affleck’s past
- The origin of π
Up until the most recent year, I used Twitter as a purely fun platform, Tweeting about the most inane things (read: weird things that happen to me, observations about my day, lots of whining, etc.,). Once I began submitting to journals, however, Twitter suddenly became much more interesting. Most journals have a Twitter and will tweet updates about contests, prizes, new issues, calls for submission, or link to other cool journals, literary happenings, or promote their authors. It’s a great way to discover new journals and if you’re published in a journal, to get some free promotion! Also, handily,once you follow a couple, Twitter’s convenient “Who should you follow” sidebar suggests other journals for you to follow. (This can be deadly: you get sucked into the vortex of journal-finding and forget about all other useful things happening in your day.) It’s also a great place to meet other authors/become part of a writing community. There’s a group of four or five writers on Twitter that kind of adopted me (long story, having to do with The Rumpus’s Letters in the Mail program, etc) and watching their banter/support via Twitter is awesome. A couple poets who also contributed to Dialogist‘s new issue followed me on Twitter and we struck up a lovely little, complimentary conversation.
If you’re interested in finding or submitting to some journals, here are some cool Twitters (& journals!) to check out:
One of the books Erika Meitner lists as recommended reading for Copia is a CNF book that’s part investigative journalism, part memoir, by journalist Charlie LeDuff called Detorit: An American Autopsy. I have a copy of this book sitting on my desk right now, and it’s a fantastic read–if you’re interested at all in learning about the economic downfall of Detroit, or sociologically breaking down all of the individual issues behind that downfall, definitely check it out. Continue reading “What Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones?”